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Desiring Things

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This article traces various circuits – of allegory, history, viewership and desire –around the infamous sixteenth-century French painting known as the Portrait of Gabrielle d’EstrĂ©es and one of her Sisters. It addresses not specific collecting practices, but the desires that might underlie them, attempting to theorize the intersection of desires for material objects and for bodies. What might a culturally specific understanding of this intersection mean for our understanding of Renaissance collecting? The resulting notion is not one of ‘homosexual’ desire based on a modern identity category, but rather a notion of imitative or mimetic desire, and imitative viewing, that presuppose the resemblance and analogy of the viewer and the object of the gaze, rather than the ‘difference’ implied in heterosexual models of desire. In this view, images cause their viewers to resemble them (that is, the images). The argument places emphasis on prints, particularly erotic prints, as objects of intimate attachments that might provide clues to the uses of collected objects, that visually intertwine bodies and things, and which materialize the pervasive and powerful metaphor of the ‘imprint’ of the image on the body.

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: University of Pennsylvania

Publication date: April 1, 2001


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